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Rhode Island Hospital awarded $11 million, 5-year renewal

PROVIDENCE, RI Rhode Island Hospital has received an $11 million renewal of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to fund its Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) Center for Cancer Research Development (CCRD). Rhode Island Hospital's COBRE CCRD offers cancer researchers access to the latest technologies in molecular pathology and the emerging field of proteomics. The 5-year grant from the NIH's National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), awarded after an extremely competitive peer review process, guarantees that the laboratory-based cancer research program will continue through the year 2013.

"Rhode Island Hospital has done outstanding work in this field, and I am pleased it will continue to receive federal funds to support cancer research. This federal investment will help Rhode Island Hospital transform lab discoveries into patient treatment and attract more elite researchers to the state," says U.S. Senator Jack Reed, who supported the program and serves on the Appropriations subcommittee which oversees federal funding for NIH programs.

One area within the COBRE CCRD is proteomics -- the identification and quantification of proteins with the goal of determining how they interact, how their expression changes by disease and how they are modified by environmental change. This type of basic research has the potential to go from "bench to bedside," by identifying breakthroughs that will translate to changes in the treatment of patients with cancer. Another area within the COBRE CCRD is molecular pathology, which deals with the characterization of the molecular and cellular events critical to the development of cancer, with the goal of identifying biomarkers with diagnostic and prognostic potential.

Peter Snyder, Lifespan's vice president of research, says, "The renewal of this grant shows the NIH's recognition of the valuable research being performed here at Rhode Island Hospital's CCRD. In addition, it helps to solidify our role of supporting the Rhode Island economy by increasing the research and biotechnology being done locally."

Under the leadership of principal investigator Douglas Hixson, PhD, the center received its first grant in 2003. Hixson says, "Over the past five years we have established an infrastructure and the technology to support basic research in the area of gastrointestinal cancer and to engage investigators in developing new research initiatives centered around the role of adult stem cells in the genesis of cancer." He further notes, "This year we also received a $500,000 economic stimulus fund grant that allowed our proteomics core to purchase a state-of-the art imaging mass spectrometer. By allowing investigators to identify proteins differentially expressed in malignant and normal cells by directly scanning tissue sections, this exciting new technology will accelerate the identification of biomarkers by directly linking the fields of proteomics and molecular pathology."

"This award will enable these investigators to continue to build their capacity to perform state-of-the-art research in specific cancers, such as in gastrointestinal tumors," said NCRR Director Barbara Alving, MD. "The center will also provide excellent opportunities to train new generations of biomedical researchers."

Since its opening in 2003, the center has already made discoveries that have broadened knowledge of different types of cancer. Hixson explains, "We've identified a new mode of transmitting signals regulating the growth and spread of cancer, a new gene that determines sensitivity to anti cancer drugs, another gene elevated by acid reflux that increases the risk of esophageal cancer and two novel tumor suppressor genes whose loss elevates the risk of stomach cancer.

"The renewal of our grant provides us with an outstanding potential for groundbreaking research in our center," he comments. Over the next five years, the center will focus its efforts on generating new avenues of research by facilitating collaboration among cancer investigators within the CCRD and at other universities and hospitals in Rhode Island. Hixson says, "Of particular interest will be research aimed at identifying characteristics of cancer stem cells that could serve as therapeutic targets. We also expect our new imaging mass spectrometer to become a catalyst for collaborative interactions aimed at developing novel clinical and basic research applications for this largely unexplored technology."

Snyder concludes, "Not only are we helping to fuel our local economy, but overall, our research may someday prove to be the key to unlocking medical breakthroughs that may completely change the course of cancer treatment to improve outcomes. We look forward to that day."


Contact: Nancy Jean

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